Going Home: Memoir

Here’s the thing. I write and publish in three different genres. To wit: 1) academic books and articles; 2) romantic fiction; 3) creative nonfiction/memoir.

I just wrote about my current academic writing obligations and projects yesterday, but after January is over,  I don’t believe they will occupy all of my writing time. As a result, it was my intention to return to the writing of RN2 (Romance Novel 2), which has been in progress for some time.

(I’m something of a workaholic — which I don’t think is a positive trait, but it’s a reality, and I know I’ll need to alternate between pure academic wring and Something Else.)

Until very recently, I thought that the Something Else would be RN2. Other than academic writing, it’s the most recent genre in which I’ve written and published.

But … but …

In recent months, a few people who shall remain nameless (well, nobody would recognize their names — LOL) have urged me to take up my creative nonfiction pen once again (figuratively speaking on that “pen” part). Then once again in recent days, the same thing has happened.   And I brushed them aside, then and now.  This is something folks have been telling me I should do pretty much since my 20s. Even earlier. And I’ve resisted.

Because it’s a form of writing I did some 20+ years ago.

And? My mother wrote memoir. She was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, though she never did publish her memoir (which was amazing). She encouraged me to write creative nonfiction. And I blew her off, of course. Rebellion City.

I told myself 20 years ago that I was finished with memoir. I published some pieces, though never a full-length book — but that wasn’t my aim at the time. I was mostly preoccupied with my academic career.

Also? Everybody and her sister think they can write a full-length memoir.  Got a weird childhood?  Even better, a hard one? Suffered trauma? Write a memoir. In the past several decades, there has been an explosion of the form, particularly among female authors, in the late 1980s and 90s.  Some of them were good. Some of them were Very, Very Bad.

Honestly, though? I’m not excited by RN2 at the moment. It’s stalled.

And I don’t feel that way about memoir.

Now, Memoir as Therapy is boring and self-indulgent. You need to have processed a lot of shit in order to write decent, compelling memoir. It’s not about spilling your guts. It’s about reconstituting processed material and writing close to the bone with a unique voice, yet also in a way that speaks to others. Otherwise, why bother?

I guess I’ll find out if I can rise to the challenge once again. Aside from encouragement by relatives, friends, and professors, and a few very minor publications and editors, there’s not much reason to think I can write something of longer length.


You never know if you don’t try.

And I’m really good at trying.



4 thoughts on “Going Home: Memoir

  1. I like what Mary Karr said (and who I quoted, extensively, in my thesis): “Those of you who felt a living emotional connection to the past that struck you as real, those who’ve been somewhere, who brim with feeling and may even be crying, but are not devastated—come on in” (Karr The Art of Memoir 33). Memoir is not about purgation, or catharsis–it is about reflection, art, and meaning. Maybe now that you have some distance on some events I’ve always thought you should write about, you can have that lens of experience through which to put it all down on paper. Go for it!!

  2. Where memoirs are concerned, the “full-length” part is, I think, a double-edged sword. There are bound to be bits that are interesting to us that have no relevance to the overall story. Therefore, my best advice (as both an author and a freelance fiction editor) is just write – put everything in that you can think of. Then give it to an editor.
    Best of luck!
    P.S. I’m working on my own memoir, so I’m familiar with all the questions you have.

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